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148                                                                                                             B- POLEVOI
You are a volunteer. You have done your share of fight-
ing. If you apply, you will get your discharge, and then
you will be able to take command over the women.
Practical men are needed in the rear too, aren't they?
What do you say, greybeard?"
As he said this the Commissar looked so kindly at the
old soldier that the latter jumped down from the
windowsiil, animated and excited.
uGet my discharge, you say!" he exclaimed. "That's
what I'm thinking too. I was just saying to myself:
suppose I put in an application to the commission? After
all I've been through three wars: the imperialist war,
the Civil War, and a bit of this one. Perhaps that's
enough, eh? What would you advise me to do, Comrade
Regimental Commissar?"
"Say in your application that you want your discharge
because you want to join the women in the rear. Say
that there are others to protect you from the Germans,"
shouted Meresyev from his bed, unable to restrain
Stepan Ivanovich looked guiltily at him. The Commis-
sar puckered his eyebrows angrily and said:
"I don't know what to advise you, Stepan Ivanovich.
Ask your heart. It's a Russian heart you've got. It will
give you the advice you need."
Next day, Stepan Ivanovich received his discharge
from the hospital. He came into the ward in his military
uniform to say good-bye. Of short stature, in his old,
faded tunic that had become white in the wash, tightly
belted and so well drawn in at the back that there was
not a single fold in front, he looked at least fifteen years
younger than he was. On his breast he wore the gold
Hero of the Soviet Union star, polished to a dazzling
brightness, the Order of Lenin and the "For Valour"
medal. He had his hospital gown thrown over his shoul-
ders like a cape. And the whole of him, from the tips of
his old, army top-boots to the tips of his moustaches
jauntily turned up in "awls", smacked of the dashing
Russian soldier as depicted in the Christmas cards of the
period of the First World War.
The soldier stepped up to each of his wardmates to
say good-bye, addressing him by his military title and